“As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”—1 Kings 6:12–13
The Torah portion for this week is Terumah, which means “contributions,” from Exodus 25:1–27:19, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 5:26–6:13.
In this week’s Torah reading, we read about the construction of the Tabernacle. In this week’s Haftorah reading, we jump forward to the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem during King Solomon’s reign. If you go to Jerusalem today and look at the massive stones remaining in the Temple excavations, you will marvel at what an amazing feat the building of the Temple must have been in its time.
As Scripture describes, the building of the Temple was a monumental task. Solomon enlisted 30,000 men to chop down trees in Lebanon to be floated down the Mediterranean and then transported across the rocky terrain to Jerusalem. There were 70,000 carriers and 80,000 stonecutters working in the hills. The finest craftsmen carved palm trees, flowers, and cherubs into the wood-paneled Temple walls. The holiest room in the Temple was covered in pure gold. Indeed, the Temple was a sight to behold!
However, in the midst of describing how the Temple was constructed, Scripture digresses for a moment to relay a message to Solomon from God: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.” Why are these words inserted in the middle of an otherwise descriptive portion?
The answer is because it is specifically when we are in the middle of something that we often forget why we began a project in the first place.
By placing this message in the middle of describing the Temple’s construction, God is teaching Solomon – and all of us – that we must never get too caught up in building something lest we forget the reasons for our efforts. In Solomon’s case, God wanted to stress that no matter how beautiful the Temple was, it would only be as meaningful as the Israelites made it. If they obeyed God, then the Temple would serve its purpose. Otherwise, it would just be an empty shell, devoid of meaning.
Whether we are building a church, a house, a family, or a career, we need to stay focused on our original priorities. A doctor must remember that her goal is to heal; a lawyer needs to keep his passion for justice. A home is most meaningful when it helps a family thrive; and a congregation must never forget its mission.
What are you building in your life? Take a moment this week to consider your answer, and then – most importantly – remember the reasons why.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President